Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. Harper, c2011

In this award-winning children's novel, ten year old Ha and her family escape from Viet Nam in 1975 and relocate to Alabama. She chronicles the year in free verse as a form of journal, using language at once descriptive and lyrical.

Through the dated poems, we learn of her life in South Viet Nam as the war comes closer to home and her father is missing in action. We feel the political pressure building until mother decides it is time to pull up roots and go to America. We experience what it is like to live on an overcrowded boat, lost and adrift, and to be rescued by an American ship. And once sponsored out of the relocation camp in Florida and moved to Alabama, we learn of the painful acclimation to a new country, a new language, and a new culture.

I found the story compelling and touching, and at times frustrating and painful. I was not prepared for the honesty of the ten-year-old's insights, which were much different from what I would expect from an American child. The author acknowledges it is an autobiographical story. She successfully educates, without apology, while entertaining. Be sure you have tissues handy.